All you need to know about keeping exotic pets in the UK

sugar glider

Most types of exotic pets are relatively easy to keep. There is a wide range so that choosing from the available species merits some thought and preparation.

The word “exotic” applied to pets traditionally refers to a very wide range of the more unusual types, from axolotls, a type of salamander, to woman, also known as the sand python. As their popularity has increased, it is more usual nowadays to see each species and many sub-species being referred to in their own right.

When choosing which type to keep, a number of different aspects should be considered, and it is appropriate to take time to research and consider the optimum choice for the would-be keeper’s requirements.

Legislation and safekeeping of exotic pets

Exotic species can be rare and/or poisonous, so an understanding of the legislation that affects exotic pets is required.

Under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act which was introduced in 1976, you will need a license to keep any of the wild animals listed here on the .Gov website.

What are axolotls?
What are axolotls?

You’ll be surprised how long the list is.

You can can apply for a wild animal licence from your local council. But just because you apply doesn’t mean you’ll be granted a licence. To gain a licence you’ll have to first prove that you have the knowledge and facilities to look after the animals safely and appropriately.

For animals that are not deemed dangerous, the world really is your oyster when it comes to choosing a pet, however, you must adhere to the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.

Under this law, you must care for the animals properly and in accordance with their specific welfare needs around their diet, their environment and protecting them from pain and suffering.

Most enclosures are going to be a tank or vivarium; a cage or, in some cases, a wooden enclosure is appropriate. Security is, therefore, a further consideration. Some of the pet types, e.g., millipedes, can burrow through the most narrow spaces, or live food could be required, so these should also be included in security considerations.

Habitat requirements for exotic pets

Heat, light, and humidity are the main habitat parameters. If the selected type of pet is amphibious or marine, then extra equipment will be required, similar to that for keeping fish in aquariums.

The size of the enclosure and the corresponding ease of maintenance and pet care will be determined by the type of pet. For instance, these could vary from small vivariums for spiders to long and shallow versions of tanks for salamanders.

The floor of the enclosure, use of plants, rocks, etc., and their need for cleaning and/or replacement all add more parts to the equation.

Handling of exotic pets

Many of the exotic species are of the “admire from a distance” variety, and handling would not be appropriate or necessarily welcomed.

They still have to be moved through for cleaning or examination, so adequate preparations might include forceps for scorpions or nets, plastic boxes, and gloves.

Diet and feeding of exotic pets

If the pet is a herbivore, food provisioning may be of an abnormal type, so it needs to be planned. Many of the exotics are predators or carnivores, so the supply of live food and removal of uneaten meat will be required.

It will not be difficult in the majority of cases, and with many types, the frequency of feeding can very low, e.g., every few days in some instances.

Health and Veterinary Advice for keeping exotic pets

A lot of exotic species’ populations in the wild have been decimated by pollution, and many are susceptible to commercial products such as cleaners. So, a good supply of dechlorinated water is required as a spray to clean the inside of tanks, plants, and anything with a surface that might allow harmful bacteria to grow. Tap water that has stood for two days is suitable for this purpose.

Health advice will be available from any reputable supplier of these types of pets, but a prospective petkeeper would also be well-advised to check the availability of a local veterinarian able to treat the selected species.

Special Considerations

Depending on the choice made, extra tanks or enclosures could be advisable to cater to live feeding, separation of co-habitants on occasion, and breeding, as some examples.

One should also bear in mind that with many types, breeding can be prolific because, in the natural habitat, few offspring survive to become adults. That may not be the case in a stable domesticated environment!

Remember too, that just because you can keep something, doesn’t mean you should.

11 of the most unusual exotic pets you can keep in the UK

1. Capybara

This large rodent is infact the largest rodent in the world and weighs about 35-65kg. Looks like a huge guinea pig. Although native to the South American savannahs, you can actually keep a Capybara in the UK. You will need a licence provided by your local council to certify your housing and habitat is sufficient for a Capybara to live in.

The capybara is a semi-aquatic animal ( they have webbed feet) so they’ll need a swimming pool at least 4 feet deep with a ramp to access it.

Capybaras are vegetarians. They love to graze on grass as well as aquatic plants, fresh fruit and vegetables. You should also feed your capybara hay and cattle pellets. Plus as there teeth are constantly growing you’ll need to proved chewing sticks ( well branches!) to help keep them ground down.


2. Marmoset Monkey

The RSPCA is campaigning against keeping primates as pets.

Marmosets belong in the tropical rainforests of South America. They can live for up to 18 years so it’s a real commitment as a pet. They are very intelligent creatures and get easily bored. They usually live in packs forming social structures in the wild without the social interaction they can become stressed and very unhappy.

Marmosets mainly eat sap and gum from trees, but they also eat the leaves, fruit, seeds and flowers. They may also eat insects, snails, lizards, frogs and baby birds all of which are hard to obtain in the UK so I would let these lovely creatures live in the wild where they belong.

Go and see one in the Zoo if you really want to get up close.

Common Marmoset

3. Octopus

I never thought of keeping an octopus a pet, but they are beautiful and intelligent and can live in an aquarium. But do they make good pets?

Octopuses are intelligent creatures that like to explore their environment and often interact with their human keepers in the Sea Life parks. They can differentiate between humans and will often prefer one more than others.

I would argue that a home aquarium isn’t big enough to keep an Octopus happy unless it’s enormous. They are big creatures and should enjoy plenty of space. Plus they are very sensitive to water quality so you’ll need to keep an eye on the pH.

Octopuses like to be fed about 3 times a day and they need live food and frozen krill which is very specialised. So please don’t keep an Octopus as a pet.


4. Sugar Glider

Small, cute and unique little animals, Sugar gliders are popular exotic pets. Having a sugar glider as a pet is a long-term commitment. They require a special diet, lots of attention and space.

Sugar gliders can make endearing, playful, and entertaining pet. They need regular handling if you want yours to be friendly as they bond strongly with their colony mates.

Bigger is always better when it comes to providing a home for your sugar glider and the height is more valuable than the floor space due to the gliding activity.

In the wild, a sugar glider’s diet includes nectar and sap from trees. Sugar gliders are omnivorous, so in addition to the nectar and sap, they will also eat both plant material and meat including fruit, insects, and even small birds or rodents.

Find out how to make the perfect diet for your new pet Sugar glider.

sugar glider
Sugar Glider – cute or what!

5. Giant African Land Snail

The shell of the giant African snail reaches up to 7.8 inches in length and 2.7-3.9 inches in height. An adult weighs about the same as a tennis ball.

These snails can be housed in a variety of containers, depending upon the size and number of snails that you have. A good container is a glass or plastic aquarium tank. These types of containers allow easy cleaning and you will be able to watch your snails through the sides. The snails like to burrow, so when you have your tank, fill it with several centimetres of peat-free compost and a large piece of bark.

Keep your snail warm. Snails are happiest in temperatures of about 21 degrees Celsius. The best way to achieve a warmer temperature is to place a heating pad under half of the snail’s tank. You should only place it under half the tank, so the snail has somewhere to go to cool down if need be.

In the UK it is perfectly legal to keep giant snails, however Giant African land snails are considered to be an invasive species that could significantly affect the ecosystem of your local area if released into the wild, decimating greenery and removing food sources from our native snails. So maybe not these beauties.

giant African land snail
Giant African Land Snail

6. African Pygmy Hedgehogs

The African pygmy hedgehog is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, which is hardly surprising considering how dinky and easy to look after they are.

They are nocturnal so they will be sleepy and inactive during the day but ready to play in the evening when you get home from school (or work).

You can feed your pet hedgehog on good quality dry cat food which is high in protein. Plus supplemental feeding of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables – sounds healthy eh. But they’ll enjoy mealworms, crickets, wax worms and silk worms too, not so tasty for you, because they are insectivores.

For one African pygmy hedgehog you will need a cage at least 3ft by 1.5ft, or bigger. They can also live quite happily in large rabbit hutches.

African pygmy hedgehogs are sensitive to cold and changes in temperature, so you will need to heat the cage by means of a heat pad and keep it at a constant temperature around 23 degrees Celsius.

African pygmy hedgehog
Pygmy Hedgehog

7. Mexican Walking Fish – Axolotl

Are they fish or are they lizards? All we do know is they look a bit like a Toothless from How to Train your Dragon, so therefore they’re pretty cool. And, they’re actually kind of cute; for a lizard-fish.

They have superior regenerative qualities, even in comparison to other lizards, such as those that can regenerate their tails and scales. Axolotl heal very easily if injured and can re-grow limbs such as a leg if hurt or attacked by other animals.

The type of axolotl that is commonly available to buy as pets within the UK are of the Ambystoma Mexicana genus. Correctly cared for, they are animals that can live for well over ten years under suitable conditions. 

Young axolotl can become cannibalistic to others, and so should not be housed together while they are young, making it one of the weirdest exotic pets you can own in the UK. Sometimes adult tank mates can also be aggressive, especially if the tank is overcrowded, so don’t keep a lot in one tank. Axolotl will eat other fish and organisms in the water, so they should not be kept with other aquatic pets, like your common goldfish.

Brine shrimp, tubifex worm, bloodworm and other suitable snacks can all be bought easily from most pet stores in frozen packages, which can be stored at home. Axolotl can also eat pre-packaged dried fish food pellets such as those fed to farmed salmon. Axolotl should be fed at least once a day but will stop eating when they are full and can be left for up to two weeks on a full belly.

exotic axolotl mexican walking fish
Axolotl Mexican Walking Fish

8. Tarantula

I love spiders and once had a Ruby Tarantula on my desk at work! You need a tall tank if you have an arboreal species or one with a sandy substrate if its burrowing kind. Plus of course hiding places.

They aren’t social so live alone and like a diet of crickets and insects but only eat once a week.Generally, spiders should be housed one to a cage as they are not social. A diet of crickets, supplemented with other insects, is fine for pet tarantulas and adults only need to eat about once a week unless they are growing. If they are shedding they’ll need feeding more regularly.

Tarantulas like a darker place to live so don’t put them in bright sunlight!
They’ll need a little extra heat from a heat pad to keep them at the right temperature ( about 23-29 degrees C).

Yes, they can bite and their bites are venomous. However, for most species, the toxicity of their venom is much like that of a bee or wasp. It is most likely to cause a nasty reaction including pain, redness, and swelling. However, people can have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to spider bites in the same way that some people react to bee stings.


9. The Fennec Fox

The Fennec Fox is also known as the desert fox. They are beautiful, small members of the vulpine family and can be kept as pets, but not many people keep them.

Fennec foxes behave much like dogs but they are not domesticated so require very careful training and socialisation. They like to escape ( no recall) and they can live up to 14 years.

They move a bit like a cat with the energy and enthusaism of a dog so a weird mix of personality traits. They spend a lot of time being very active but do love to sleep most of the time.

Fennec Foxes need a mix of dog and cat food plus vegetables and fruit for balanced diet.

Fennec Fox

10. Stick Insect

Stick insects are insects that really do look like sticks, leaves and even branches. There are over 6000 stick insect species on Earth, many of which are kept as pets.

They vary so much in shape and size that there are plenty to choose from. Some are long and thin, others more twiggy and covered in strange shapes that mimic thorns, leaves or moss, making them one of the weirdest exotic pets you can keep in the UK.

All stick insects are vegetarian. They like to much on blackberry and raspberry leave and need plenty of fresh food in their habitat so they can munch all day.

Stick insects love to hang upside down on plants so put plenty of places for them to chill out in their tank. It’s recommended that the height of their tank should be 3 times the length of the stick insects you keep in it.

By the way, it’s better to keep stick insects in a tank because that way they cannot escape. If you keep them in a mesh cage they may wiggle through the gaps and you’ll be staring into the enclosure at real sticks instead of them!

stick insect
Stick Insect

11. Boa Constrictor Snake

Boa constrictors are not poisonous in any way. Their saliva contains enzymes used to digest prey, similar to those found in humans and other animals.

Boas can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. Although they are not poisonous, their bites can cause severe damage.

They need a large enclosure with plenty of branches for climbing and hiding spots, as well as a water dish that is big enough to soak in.

They are nocturnal animals, meaning they sleep during the day and come out at night to hunt prey. 

It’s important to feed them live food like mice or rats every few weeks so they don’t get bored eating frozen rodents all the time. This is not for the feint hearted.

Untitled design 4
Boa Constrictor Snakes are beautiful.

So do still you want an exotic pet?

So, if a dog, cat or rabbit seems too tame a pet, then remember to do your research properly and ensure you have the ability and facilities to look after an exotic pet before getting one. But you could have the coolest pet in town to keep you company. Many of them can be trained too if you have the skill and patience. Check out our 100 tricks to teach your pets for ideas.

Exotic Pet FAQs

Is it legal to own a galago (bush baby) in the UK?

bush baby ( galago) primate

It is illegal to keep a primate in the UK without a licence. You can apply online on the Gov.uk website if you meet the criteria for keeping a galago (bush baby).

Is it legal to own a boa constrictor in the UK

You can own a boa constrictor as a pet in the UK. Make sure you provide adequate housing, food and care for your exotic pet by speaking to experts.